Sheep’s Snout—Irish Heritage Apples

sheeps snout

A relatively common cultivar, the Sheep’s snout is a native Irish cider apple from counties Cavan, Westmeath and Waterford. It is a small to medium in size, with an unusual, long conical shape. Very irregular with ribs present. Pale yellow to yellowish green with brown to brownish red flush occasionally.

Drawn in graphite pencil over a color pencil and solvent underpainting.

Cowslips—continuing saga

final trace
Final, approved drawing on tracing paper. Ready to transfer.
work in progress 6-23
Here I am consulting—not copying!— leaf photos on my i-pad to get a better understanding of texture.
color swatchs
This is a color swatch sheet, testing what various greens look like with solvent applied on top.

Last night’s class was spent entirely on refining the drawing. I visually moved one of the cowslips to the back and added a couple of more leaves. Also added some bracts to each flower stem. I started to practice the intricate leaf texture on Primulas. Man, this is going to take awhile. By the time I get this finished I should be an expert! Good thing because I’ve got a primrose up next.

Aherne Beauty—Irish Heritage Apples

aherne beauty

Periodically, I’ll be posting bits about the very interesting heritage apples of Ireland. (Getting my geek on for sure!) Compared to the half dozen varieties we see here in American supermarkets, these oddly unique apple shapes and sizes are endlessly fascinating. Biodiversity at its finest! My goal is to illustrate as many of the varieties as I can in the coming year. Maybe one a week. We’ll see. The first example (above) is the Aherne Beauty, a variety that can be traced back to the early 1900’s in County Armagh. They are small, with a deep crimson color and an irregular, oblong shape. Rendered here as a value study in graphite pencil with an underpainting of watercolor pencil. Eventually, I’ll re-draw these all in colored pencil and graphite.


field of cowslips
Cowslips growing in a Burren pasture. Tiny little buggers . . .
At this stage I’ve started to cut up previous drawings so i can move the various parts around. I also enlarged on the copier. It becomes a puzzle that constantly needs to be rearranged to get to that near perfect composition. The next challenge will be to add all the leaves at the bottom.

This weeks class took place at the same time as the Hot Rise concert, so LOTS of fanfare this evening at the Gardens. Got to see some of the show, in between rain showers. The distinctive voice of Tim O’Brien sounds as great as ever.

Week one has been spent working out composition ideas in pencil on tracing paper — this is pretty much how I begin every project. Redrawing and refining on tracing paper. Sometimes two, sometimes many more iterations. For me, tracing paper takes away the fear factor of ruining good quality paper. Every detail gets worked out well before any pencil touches high-end paper. This process is also one of the fundamental techniques taught at the SBAI.

At tonight’s class discussions about composition took place, refinements were made—basically starting over. It’s amazing how another expert set of eyes can make you see the light. Thank you Susan DiMarchi! I’m starting to get it. The goal is to have a finished drawing on tracing paper, and maybe a value study by next Tuesday night. Hopefully, by then we will be ready to transfer our drawings to that beautiful Fabriano Artistico. Next step, color!

Before (on the right), and after (on the left). Many more iterations to come.

Shakespeare’s First Folio


As part of the national traveling exhibition First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays will be on display at 52 sites across the United States next year marking the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death.

The University of Colorado Boulder was named Colorado’s host for the “First Folio!” and the exhibition will be open to the public at the Norlin Library in August of 2016.

The First Folio is the first complete collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623 seven years after his death. Compiled by two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, it preserves 36 of Shakespeare’s plays. Without it, we would not have 18 of those plays, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra.

The First Folio will be opened to the most quoted line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “to be or not to be.” A multi-panel exhibition exploring Shakespeare’s impact, then and now, will be accompanied by digital content and interactive activities.

As part of the event, The School of Botanical Art and Illustration at the Denver Botanic Gardens will present an exhibit of Botanical art around the theme “Shakespeare and flowers”.  Two current classes devoted to this project are now underway and I’m lucky enough to be part of one.

We started Tuesday night with an overview of the life and times of William Shakespeare, Elizabethan society, and some research into the multitude of flowers associated with his work. We even started working on some compositional ideas in pencil. Over the summer I’ll be part of two dozen students working to complete finished botanical plates for the exhibit. Wish us luck!

Susan demonstrating
Instructor Susan Rubin showed us her composition and discussed some options for preparing our plates.
Instructor Susan DiMarchi and students going over the list of potential subjects.
my first attempt
Here is my first attempt. It’s all wrong! I have already started to re-work it. That’s what class is for!

Ireland’s Wild Orchids

wild orchids susan sex
intro spread


Getting a chance to look through a folio edition of “Ireland’s Wild Orchids” was a real thrill. The seven year collaboration between Brendan Sayers, Susan Sex, and The National Botanic Gardens in Dublin is a true work of art. Very few of these large format books were produced so it is hard to find one. The quality of reproduction is so high that the illustrations look like originals! Brendan let me spend time (about 30 minutes) with his copy—thank you!— and I took as many iphone pics as possible. Here are a few examples of Susan’s brilliant work. If I ever win the lottery, this is the my first purchase. Seriously!

burren susan sex
Lovely watercolor painting of the Burren


bloody cranesbill susan
A smaller side painting of the Bloody Cranesbill.


Irish heritage apples

A quick color pencil study of an Irish Molly apple—from a photograph. Wish I had the real thing to work from.

One of the unexpected pleasures of my trip was the discovery of the heritage apple orchards at the Irish Seed Savers Association. The Native Apple Collection contains a unique orchard of over 33 self rooting varieties of apple trees that require no grafting for propagation. This is probably the largest collection of this type of apple tree in the world. It contains 140 distinct varieties of apples, like the “Irish Molly” pictured above.
In May the trees were just starting to bud, I’ll need to come back in the fall to see actual apples on trees! Eventually, I would like to illustrate this wonderfully unique collection of Irish apples in colored pencil and watercolor. I know . . . add it to the list!

My Spring Gentians are underway

my gentian

I’ve started my first plate from my notes and research during the Burren trip in May. Not sure how i feel about it yet, or whether it will make it to a successful end. It is quite difficult to duplicate the intense brilliant blue of the gentian flower! But I’ve got to keep pushing forward. I have a list of subjects waiting in the wings—cowslips, bluebells, cranesbill, purple orchid— no time for over analyzing. I’m glad my class starts next week, and I’ll be able to get some much needed advice.